This week’s Free Ride* muses on the songs of Paul Kossoff and the group Free from the late 60s/early 70s (some of Free’s members later became Bad Company). The world of classic rock lost Kossoff 35 years ago today to a heart attack brought on from drug abuse. Alas, freedom has its costs. The music of the guitarist certainly lives on though – you don’t have to tune in to a classic rock station for long before hearing his vintage riffs and solos backing Paul Rogers’ vocals on the much-played Free standard, All Right Now. It all started when Paul Kossoff, aka Koss, was studying classical guitar in 1965 and ventured into a London pub, where he heard a sound that forever changed the direction of his life. Eric Clapton was playing with John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers, and from that moment on Koss was hooked on the blues. He would repay Clapton four years later, when Free was opening for Blind Faith and Koss demonstrated for an impressed Slow Hand how he managed to produce such a powerful tremolo effect.
The concept of freedom showed up in the band’s lyrics as well as their name in the slow blues song, Free Me. It is a great showcase for Koss’ guitar work, not showy, but filled with that expressive vibrato that became his signature sound. While the lyrics were no doubt intended to speak about the angst of relationships, they also have an eery application to the demons that Koss was facing, that would eventually take his life.
It’s tragic to realize just how many of our guitar heroes were heroin addicts, like Koss. Some sought treatment and survived. Some, like him, didn’t. Who’s to say what the music would have sounded like sober, without the psychedelic tripping. Whatever the influence, theirs was a blues born from the ironic tension between the transcendent freedom of a hallucinogenic escape and the reality of that very escape draining their strength, running them down to the point where they would be crawling on the ground. As the song says,
It’s a shame Free’s guitarist didn’t find that freedom here on earth. We can hope for him that he found the freedom that his tombstone’s epitaph promises:
“It’s All Right Now.”
*Free Ride is a Saturday blog from Stan Dotson that takes a different artist or song each week and muses on lyrics of freedom. You can click on the live links in the post to hear the music referenced in the blog. If you have a favorite “freedom” song (it could be any song that has the word free or freedom in it), feel free to suggest it in the comment box below. As always, your feedback and comments are welcome.